With mandatory minicamps beginning to open around the NFL, most teams have their major position groups sorted. And certainly they know where last season’s pro bowlers slot in.
The Chiefs, however, continue to wait on the ongoing investigation by the Kansas Department of Children and Family Services, as well as that of the NFL, on their pro bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
OTAs and other team preparations have continued on without Hill, as he remains suspended from all football activities related to that investigation. But no one really knows where things will be by September. So I thought we’d take a look at how the Chiefs wide receiving corps will shake out for the upcoming season, regardless of what happens with Hill.
With Tyreek Hill
Even if the DCF wraps up its investigation without implicating Hill, he’s probably going to be suspended by the league for the things that were said on the tape that was released. That’s likely to be in the neighborhood of six games, delayed with an appeal, and maybe reduced to four.
But for the games he’s on the field the Chiefs wide receivers would arguably be better than last year. Hill would fill his normal role, and Sammy Watkins, healthier and with a greater rapport with Patrick Mahomes, should be more productive.
Rookie Mecole Hardman would have less pressure to produce early, making it more likely he truly finds his footing in the offense. Demarcus Robinson enters his put-up-or-shut-up fourth season and showed some growth the last half of 2018. Second year player Byron Pringle returns from injury, plus there are a number of undrafted free agents in camp right now with real future NFL potential.
In other words, with Hill this group has depth, great speed, and leadership, and is one of the real strengths of the Chiefs offense.
Without Tyreek Hill
If after the investigations have been completed and either the Chiefs cut Hill or he’s suspended by the NFL for the entire season, the wide receivers take on a much different look.
Sammy Watkins becomes KC’s #1 wide receiver. He’s more than capable of being a team’s top wide receiving option. But he’s not the same player as Hill, so the offense would need to adjust – something both Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes can handle.
The real concern about Watkins as a #1 is his health history. In 2016 he missed eight games and last year he was gone for the better part of seven games. But when healthy, and when a #1 wide receiver, he has been very productive, averaging 1,000 yards and 16 yards per reception his first two years in Buffalo. And that was with Tyrod Taylor throwing the ball and offensive coordinator Greg Roman calling the plays.
It’s safe to say he’s in a better situation now, and it’s worth remembering that he’s still just 25 years old.
After Watkins things get a bit dicey. The Chiefs have a lot of solid third and fourth options, but none of the guys fill you with a lot of confidence that they are ready to be #2 or come close to filling in for Hill.
Hardman is a great talent. He’s fast, he’s hungry, and by all reports he’s working hard to learn the offense. But he’s a rookie. And unlike most other positions, rookie wide receivers simply don’t put up numbers. Along with quarterback, wide receiver seems to be the position with the greatest learning curve.
D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley were the two WRs taken in the 1st round last season. Moore finished with 55 catches for 788 yards and while Ridley finished as 64 and 821. That’s good, but those were first rounders. Hardman went at the end of the second.
The year before, in 2017, Corey Davis, Mike Williams, and John Ross were all top 10 picks. Davis finished with 375 yards and he was easily the best of the bunch. So expectations for Hardman need to be realistic.
As far as Robinson goes, he’s harder to figure out. In his third year, and in a season when Patrick Mahomes was dealing, Robinson caught just 22 balls for 288 yards. He did have touchdowns in each of the last three regular season games, which is promising. But he caught just five passes in those three games. Can Robinson be relied upon to be a consistent #2? It’s not a bet I would make.
And after Robinson and Hardman we get to a bunch of guys who look good in practice, but that’s it.
Byron Pringle was a breakout performer in the 2018 preseason prior to his injury, but he did go undrafted just a few months earlier. Marcus Kemp has had really good OTAs and has been with the team since 2017, but he has just one career reception. And Gehrig Dieter is fun to watch on Twitter as he banters with his good friend Patrick Mahomes, but he really is noting more than a special teamer and edge of the roster player.
In other words, without Tyreek Hill someone will have to outperform expectations. It could happen, considering Mahomes and Reid are the geniuses pulling the strings. But as we sit here in June, Hill’s absence creates a fairly big hole.